This Friday, 5 May, is the general election for the state legislature of Karnataka, a major state in the south of India (capital Bangalore). The state is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); in fact it is one of the rare states outside of the north where the party has ruled recently. With general elections due for the federal government within in a year–and potentially coming earlier–this is a key state contest to watch.
The BJP is facing a major challenge in projecting a national leader and PM candidate. It is widely expected to endorse Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister (state PM) of Gujarat. Modi campaigned today in Karnataka. However, Modi’s past associations with communal violence means that his nomination would cause severe tensions with coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP-ruled opposition alliance.1 Thus Karnataka is a test not only for the BJP and NDA as units, but for Modi personally.
The federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (which rules through the United Progressive Alliance), has dispatched its national leader, Sonia Gandhi, to campaign in Karnataka as well.
The BJP has experienced internal splits in the state, including the launching of a new party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), by former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. The BJP is unlikely to retain a majority of seats. Yeddyurappa has stated that, “There is no question of going back to the BJP”. If Congress likewise does not win a majority, a Congress-KJP post-poll alliance is likely.
Tensions are especially high the Janata Dal (United), which currently rules the northern state of Bihar in coalition with the BJP. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, has hinted at quitting the NDA is Modi is its PM candidate. [↩]
The author of the Banyan column in The Economist has things about right.
The whole box of lychees is worth checking out, regarding the upcoming (indirect) Indian presidential election and implications for the country’s coalition government. But the first paragraph warrants quotation here.
THE box of lychees came out of the blue. In 30 years of service, the major-domo in the bungalow of a senior politician in Lutyens’s Delhi could not recall a previous gift from this source: India’s finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee. The conclusion his bosses drew was simple. So badly does “Pranabda”, as he is known, want to be India’s president that he is breaking the parsimonious habits of a lifetime. Rather against the odds, Mr Mukherjee is now almost a shoo-in for the presidential election on July 19th. Optimists hope that his elevation might just shake India’s ruling coalition out of its present paralysis. But nobody is wagering exotic fruit on that benign outcome.
The following entry is by Devesh Tiwari, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at UCSD.
2012 Uttar Pradesh Elections: Sweeping mandate, humiliating defeat or none of the above?
Over a three week period, approximately 60 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s 126 million eligible voters participated in state level elections that took place in seven stages, making this election larger (and logistically more complex) than the national elections of many countries. By way of background, Indian states are parliamentary democracies where the majority of the legislature must support the executive. On March 6th, the results were announced and the Samajwadi Party (SP) easily gained a majority of seats, placing the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) out of power . The results were striking. The BSP, which entered the race holding 206 seats (51 percent of the 403 seat assembly) lost nearly 60 percent of its seats, winning only 80 seats (20 percent of seats). The SP nearly doubled the number of seats it held, increasing it from 97 (24 percent of seats) to 224 seats (56 percent of seats). Such a drastic swing could characterize this election as giving the SP a massive mandate, and could be equally characterized as a humiliating repudiation of the BSP.
A closer look at the election results reveals that both characterizations are overblown. Uttar Pradesh uses a “First Past the Post” electoral rule whereby the party with the most votes in a district wins the seat. This system is known to produce disproportional results where a party may win a higher proportion of seats than votes. For example, in the 2005 Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party won 55 percent of districts while only obtaining 35 percent of the vote. Thus while disproportionality is not something new, its magnitude in Uttar Pradesh is impressive.
The SP won 56 percent of districts by only winning 29 percent of the state vote. The BSP’s vote share of 26 percent translated to a seat share of only 20 percent. In other words, the 3 percentage point difference in vote shares resulted in a 36 percentage point difference in seat share.
While the BSP was on the short end of the disproportionally stick in 2012, they benefited from it in 2007. In that election, the BSP won 51 percent of seats by only winning 30 percent of the vote. The SP, on the other hand, won 24 percent of the seats while winning 26 percent of votes state wide. Taken together, the SP more than doubled the number of seats between elections by increasing their vote share by a mere 3 percentage points.
So what accounts for these startling results? Why is disproportionality so high in Uttar Pradesh? The answer is that political competition in Uttar Pradesh is highly fragmented. In 2012, each district had, on average, 13 parties contesting the election; in 2007 the average was about 9. Partisan fragmentation in Uttar Pradesh is further evidenced by the fact that in 2012, the average district vote share of winning candidates was only 35 percent (and was 36 percent in 2007). Thus the combination of party system fragmentation, and the disproportionality caused by the FPTP electoral rule, exacerbates vote share volatility to even higher levels of seat share volatility, producing high levels of political uncertainty.
Such a political environment changes the incentives of both legislators and political parties on two fronts. First, it creates incentives for parties to place a higher premium on fielding candidates that can win elections, even at the expense of party reputation and governance. This may partially explain why parties in Uttar Pradesh (and India as a whole) would be willing to field candidates with ties to criminality; winning seats is more important than long term party reputations and governance. Second, it shortens the time horizon of parties. Since a governing party would have little faith that their tenure in office would last long, they have no incentive to invest in programmatic policies whose political benefits would be realized in the future. Instead, parties would focus on short term political exchanges whereby they trade government benefits for political support.
Uttar Pradesh’s political environment undermines the production of programmatic policies and thus reinforces the political logic of clientelism. These are precisely the incentives that Uttar Pradesh does not need. As one of the poorest, and most corrupt, state in India, Uttar Pradesh would greatly benefit from reforms that reduce corruption, increase bureaucratic quality and increase the investments of public goods and services. Thus while Uttar Pradesh is a democracy in the sense that there is alternation of power, it has not produced a system whereby parties act for the benefit of the people as a whole.
The world’s longest-ruling democratically elected Communist parties have been voted out of office as results of four key Indian state legislative elections were released today.
As has been widely anticipated since at least the dust-up in the central government over the Left Front’s resistance to the Indo-US nuclear agreement, the West Bengal result shows a crushing defeat in the Left’s most important stronghold. In the 2009 national Lok Sabha (parliament) elections, an alliance headed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominated the state. In 2009, as well as in these state elections, the TMC was in a pre-electoral alliance with the federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC). TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the federal Railways Minister in the coalition cabinet of the INC-led United Progressive Alliance.
The TMC-INC alliance has won 226 seats out of 294. The TMC itself won 184. The various parties of the Left Front, which has ruled the state for 34 years, will have only 60.
In Kerala, another long-time Left stronghold in the southwest, the result was close between the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the INC, and the Left Democratic Front. Projections of seats kept swinging between the two fronts, but in the end the UDF emerged with 72 seats out of 140. Of these 72, the INC will have 38 and the Kerala Muslim League 20. (Several smaller pre-poll allies split the rest.) The Communist Party of India (Marxist)1 will have the most seats in the Kerala assembly of any single party, 45, but it does not matter, given that the pre-poll UDF won a majority.
Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, saw a setback for Congress, as one of the main Dravidian parties displaced the other. The AIADMK and its pre-poll allies (which include left parties as junior partners) defeated the Congress-allied DMK. The outgoing government was a DMK minority cabinet, backed by the INC.
In Assam, in the northeast, Congress scored a big reelection victory. It will have 76 of the assembly’s 126 seats. The opposition regional party, Asam Gana Parishad (AGP), and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were unable to conclude a pre-poll alliance to challenge the INC.
The run-up to the elections saw some interesting brinksmanship between the INC and its allies. The AIADMK and, especially the TMC, held out for many more districts than the INC was initially willing to concede. Because these are pre-electoral alliances to contest single-seat districts (decided by FPTP), the key to how many seats each alliance partner wins lies in how many winnable districts it gets to contest. The TMC forced the INC to back down, leaving the latter with far fewer seats than it originally demanded as a bottom line, and thereby underscoring how dependent the INC is on its state-based partners. In the dealing, however, the TMC had to trade off an attempt to expand its base of operation further into neighboring Assam.2
The Congress Party seems to be steadily rebuilding its strength in recent years, but it remains reliant on regional parties to do so in some key states. Its main rival for power nationally, the BJP, was scarcely a factor in these states (other than contributing to vote-splitting in Assam).
All eyes have already shifted to the next huge prize, Uttar Pradesh, which has state elections next year. Neither Congress nor the BJP currently has much a foothold there, and the main competition is between two state parties that have declined to join national alliances. The intrigue is already getting intense, with protests and counter-protests over state government land acquisition for development projects,3 and Rahul Gandhi’s midnight ride.
Yes, that is it’s name; the parenthetical term being needed to distinguish it from various other Communist Parties in India that perhaps are not Marxist enough, in some folks’ eyes. [↩]
Like many an Indian regional party, TMC harbors aspirations of becoming a “national” party; in fact, its full name is the All-India Trinamool Congress. Similarly, the “AI” in the AIADMK name in Tamil Nadu also means “All India.” [↩]
Similar conflicts fueled the TNC-INC opposition to the Left in West Bengal [↩]
Two parties of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is India’s current national opposition, scored big in the Bihar legislative elections. Bihar is one of India’s poorest and most populous states.
The NDA is the alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The combine of the BJP and its ally, the Janata Dal (United), won nearly 85% of the seats in the Bihar assembly. That is more than the Congress Party ever won back in the days when it was the dominant party.
The current Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, will be returned to power. This time, however, the BJP is a larger component of the alliance. The Congress Party, and its allies within the (national ruling) United Progressive Alliance, suffered electoral devastation.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s ruling coalition won 206 seats in the 243-member assembly, the best-ever performance by any alliance or party in Bihar. The Janata Dal (United) improved its seat tally from 88 in 2005 to 115 in this election. Its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s tally jumped from 55 in 2005 to 91 this election. [...]
The biggest casualty of this change was Lalu Prasad and his Rashtriya Janata Dal [a UPA component], which returned a score that barely qualified it put up an opposition leader in the new assembly. The RJD and its alliance partner Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) won 25 seats, compared to 64 in last elections. [...]
Despite the large crowds that Rahul Gandhi drew at every rally he addressed, the Congress party managed to win four seats, compared to nine in 2005. Independent candidates and other parties won eight seats, down from 27 in last elections. [HT]
The election result has major implications for the future of the NDA-UPA competition, both nationally, and in other states. The UPA scored a large victory over the NDA in general elections in May, 2009. Now the Bihar victory shows a potential path back to power for the NDA, which governed India with a majority between 1999 and 2004: the BJP can win by putting its regional allies forward and downplaying its own radical Hindu nationalism.
Both [BJP and JD(U)] realised their alliance was symbiotic in nature. The JD(U) needed the BJP for bringing the upper caste votes. The BJP had to ride on Kumar’s image for the pan-Bihari vote. [HT]
The alliance managed to keep the Ayodhya issue quiet, averting a potential split in the electorate that might have threatened the allied parties’ ability to fish in different pools of voters within the state. The result this changes the political context, with its emphasis on development over the usual identity politics (although the just-linked item also sounds some notes of caution against over-interpreting the result in this way).
Already, it is having ripple effects in two other states that will vote in 2011, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, where Congress or an ally had been expecting big gains. Some have even been moved to suggest Kumar could be a future PM candidate for the NDA.
Over 3,500 candidates had applied for party ticket for the 403 seats after depositing a particular fee. They were also asked to take life membership of the party magazine “Samajwadi Bulletin”, the sources said.
The Allahabad High Court (HC) took the first step on Thursday towards the resolution of the 60-year-old Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi ownership dispute — by including all the warring parties in the process.
The HC gave its stamp of judicial approval to the Hindu belief that Lord Ram was indeed born there. The court also ruled by a majority verdict that the disputed 120 feet by 90 feet plot land be divided into three equal parts among three petitioners — Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the party representing Ram Lalla.
This also means that the court’s three-way split of the plot to the petitioners — even after dismissing their cases — has kept the window open for further talks. [...]
The court said the area under the central dome of the three-domed structure, where Lord Ram’s idol existed [and is presently kept in a makeshift temple at the same place], belonged to Ram Lala Virajman (the Ram deity). [Ed. note: previous brackets were in original]
The case is likely to remain unsettled for years if there is an appeal (as expected) to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, there are already political reverberations in Bihar, one of India’s largest states and one where voting begins in state assembly elections later this month.
The Ayodhya issue–specifically the 1992 destruction by militant Hindu nationalists of a Mosque built in Moghul times on the site Hindus claim as holy–was one that helped propel India’s main opposition party, the BJP, to prominence. One of the BJP’s partners in the National Democratic Alliance (which governed India from the late 1990s until 2004) is the JD(U), a party in Bihar that needs Muslim votes.
India is the classic case of what Alfred Stepan refers to as a “holding together” federation. In contrast to “coming together” federations, where (more or less) sovereign states band together to create a common central government to which the states surrender some of their sovereignty,* in a holding-together federation, a larger polity is subdivided into various sub-units that enjoy sovereignty over certain policy areas. Typically holding together is a strategy used to cope with ethnic divisions, by giving groups that are minorities in the larger polity their own states in which they constitute a majority.
India is a classic holding together federation because many of its current states did not exist when the country became independent in 1947, but rather have been created over the years in efforts to resolve various conflicts.
Such is the setting in which Telangana is about to be created, from within the existing borders of the very large southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the current capital of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, is to be included in the new state. As the Hindustan Times reports:
After nearly four decades of struggle for a separate state, the Telangana issue has reached a flashpoint. Under the leadership of K Chandrasekhar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has pressurised the Centre government to set a deadline for the formation of a separate Telangana state.
The TRS is a regional party that is currently a component of the National Democratic Alliance, in which the large national party is the BJP. This alliance has been in opposition since the 2004 election and lost rather badly in federal elections earlier this year. However, the TRS was formerly part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (led by the Congress Party, and currently in power).
In 2004, the Congress party and the TRS had an electoral alliance in the Telangana region with the promise of a separate Telangana state. TRS joined the coalition government in 2004 and was successful in making a separate Telangana state a part of the common minimum program (CMP). In September 2006, TRS withdrew support from the Congress-led coalition government.
Protests and violence finally have led the UPA to accept the demands to divide Andhra Pradesh, a state that has existed since 1956.
The Hindustan Times story has some interesting detail on the history of the region. Another article discusses the political crisis that has now erupted in Andhra: 92 state legislators and several MPs are resigning in protest.
* The classic coming-together federation is, of course, the USA. Switzerland is another case. One of Stepan’s key points is that most federations are “holding together,” and thus theories of federalism based on the assumption that the units, rather than the central polity, are the original source of sovereignty (such as the classic work of William Riker) are inadequate to explain most federal countries in the world today, including newly federalizing cases such as Belgium, Iraq, and perhaps now Bolivia.
Things are moving fast following India’s election, in which the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance came up just a few seats of a majority.
UPA’s tally in the new Lok Sabha soared by 54 on Tuesday to reach 315 mark, far above the magic figure of 272, as it received unexpected bonus of support from BSP and SP besides some other parties and independents.
BSP and SP, the two bitter rivals in Uttar Pradesh which fought elections against Congress in UP and elsewhere, pledged their support saying that they want to strengthen secular forces and to keep BJP out.
What are Congress and its pre-electoral allies in the UPA trading for this support? Not much:
[BSP leader Mayawati] said BSP’s National Executive and Parliamentary Board, which met this morning, took the decision on giving unconditional support to the government from outside.
The results of India’s general election show a big lead for the Congress Party and its allies, although they are 12 seats short of a majority in the 545-seat Lok Sabha.
This is a bit of a surprise, as indications had been that the election would be closer.*
Congress appears to have 205 seats, or 37.6% of the total, to a mere 116 (21.3%) for its main rival, the BJP. When the pre-poll allies are included, Congress reaches 261 (47.9%) and the BJP 157 (28.8%).
The much-vaunted Third Front (which includes various left and regional parties) continues to show the potential that it presumably always will have, managing 80 seats (14.7%).
The Fourth Front, made up for former Congress allies, won only 27 seats (about half what its various component parties had combined for in 2004)** and there are 18 ‘others.’
Given how close Congress and its allies are to a majority and the presence of various independents and regional parties from outside the main alliances, it should be quite easy for the Congress and its pre-electoral allies to form a minority government without any formal agreements. That would mark a departure from recent patterns of governance, as in 1999 the BJP and its allies won an outright majority, and in 2004 Congress formed a minority government with an explicit set of agreements with the Left bloc.
And, speaking of the left, is this the end of an era? Look at the state-level results and, in particular, West Bengal and Kerala. In these redoubts of elected Communist parties, the left support collapsed in these elections, compared to 2004.
While we await the official results due Sunday, the exit polls are now out in India’s general election. The Hindustan Times reports that they suggest a close call, with (as expected) neither of the main alliances having won a majority.
an India TV exit poll telecast after balloting ended said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) could end up with 195-201 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha.
This tally could go up to 227-237 if the seats bagged by estranged allies such as Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party were to be included. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was tipped to bag 189-195 seats and the Third Front 113-121 seats, it said.
The story points out that the eligible electorate in India is greater than the combined populations of Russia and the USA: 714 million. Turnout was only about 55%, however.
Separately, the HT notes that the (otherwise mostly ceremonial) President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, “has a plan.”
Government functionaries familiar with the line of thinking at Rashtrapati Bhavan [the presidential residence] suggest that the single largest political party — rather than the largest pre-poll alliance — may get the first offer to form the government.
However, the story also notes that a previous president, K.R. Narayanan, believed that the president had “full discretion” in choosing the PM (who in any case has to prove his or her majority on the floor).
There is no clear view at Rashtrapati Bhavan if Patil should stick to this precedent and ask the largest party to produce evidence of support from their coalition partners.
Though the Congress too had submitted letters from supporting parties before [incumbent PM] Manmohan Singh got a formal invite from President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2004, a strong case is being made out for the President to not get into counting heads. She should instead ask the Prime Minister to take a floor test.
India’s general election is underway. It goes in stages–not all of the country votes on the same day–and it will be about a month before the process is completed, but once the vote-counting begins, it will be a matter of hours before results are known. Most of India’s polling places use electronic voting machines.
But none of this is what this planting is about. No, it is more a ranting: Why can’t the media understand even basic comparative politics?
On Tuesday afternoon, I heard a report on National Public Radio that asserted that, following this election, the party with the most votes in parliament would choose India’s next president.
What’s wrong with that statement? Let’s see, where should we begin? Perhaps with the recognition that India is a parliamentary democracy with a rather extreme multiparty system. These elections will determine the make-up of the first chamber of parliament, the Lok Sabha. And the next prime minister will depend on the outcome of not only the election itself, but the post-electoral bargaining situation. There is no guarantee that the prime minister will be from the party with the most seats in the Lok Sabha, because no party will win a majority on its own, and perhaps no pre-electoral alliance will have a majority, either. Even if one of the pre-electoral alliances has a majority of seats, there may very well be a bigger party (in terms of seats in the Lok Sabha and/or popular votes), but without the alliance partners needed for its leader to become the prime minister.
This election is not likely to result in a majority for any of the main pre-electoral alliances, leaving several possibilities to result after the election, including a small chance of a reunion of the current governing Congress Party-led alliance and its erstwhile partners on the left.
As for the president of India, she has been in office (we can’t say “in power,” but that’s getting ahead of ourselves) since 2007. She has a fixed term, which will extend until 2012. These elections have no bearing on the tenure in office of the president, who is in any case elected not by parliament nor the voters, but by an electoral college (of which parliament–both houses–is a part, along with representatives of states).
Fairly cursory glances at the websites of both the presidency and the current prime minister will give one a clue as to who is the more powerful actor in Indian politics. (Hint: the more powerful one is the one that has policy featured prominently on the front page, and not the one that shows ceremonies, has links to views of residences, and banquet speeches.)
So, to sum up today’s crash course in comparative politics, in India, as in other parliamentary systems, general elections determine who will be prime minister. Sometimes the process of determining who will be the prime minister–and the rest of the cabinet–is rather indirect, based on the bargaining strengths in parliament that the election has directly determined. And the prime minister may not be from the party with the most seats (unless that party has a majority on its own).
The United Progressive Alliance put together by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 2004 has almost completely unravelled with the exit of the PMK on Thursday.
Worse, some of the allies who went their own way earlier are getting together, outside the UPA, to fight the Lok Sabha elections — such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Lok Janshakti Party and the Samajwadi Party.
Here is the UPA’s growing list of estranged allies and outside supporters — the PMK, TRS, MDMK, PDP, SP, RJD and LJP. And there was the Left Front that left in 2008 following differences over the nuclear agreement with the US.
The ruling alliance now has only the Congress, NCP, DMK and some minor outfits.
Gandhi’s strategy (which I noted previously) of eschewing a national alliance such as that of 2004, and instead going for state-by-state alliances, may go down as a major strategic mistake. Then again, if the NDA (the alliance led by the BJP and which had won a majority in 1999) falls short of a majority, the Congress Party may be able to form a minority government with the help of its various state-level allies.
With these developments and with the increased pre-electoral presence of the Third Front alliance, it appears that the elections that are about to begin will produce a much less clear-cut picture than the last two.
With a viable Third Front appearing more realistic than ever during the last five years, the CPI(M)-led Left Front has stepped up efforts to snatch regional parties presently with the Congress and BJP.
The CPI(M) looks in charge, more so after snaring the Biju Janata Dal, ending its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP. Encouraged by this early success, it is lining up more such parties for a friendship pitch.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4